When I heard Barack Obama exulting in the fundamental transformation of America that he promised to bring about in his 2008 speech at the University of Missouri, I was dumbfounded. Why, I thought, would anyone want to transform the most dynamic and successful nation on the face of the planet? Improve it gradually and intelligently through what philosopher Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies called “piecemeal social legislation,” certainly. Seek to strengthen its position in the world, to guarantee its security, and to stimulate a free market economy, with moderate safeguards but without undue and heavy-handed interference, absolutely. But to steer it in a direction that would render it similar to Europe’s increasingly defunct socialist polities or, for that matter, that would resemble my own country, Canada, with its onerous cost of living, high taxation (with a disproportionate tranche falling on the middle class), faltering institutions and intrusive legislation -- no way. Americans did not seem to realize how fortunate they were, and some of my American correspondents have indicated that they are beginning to look north for a template to follow. They should look again.
The disparities in daily economic life are palpable. My salary as a professor in the Quebec college system, frozen for several years, was dramatically less than that which my counterparts earned in the U.S. My mortgage rate was several percentage points higher than the comparable American figure. My Tucson SUV costs several thousand dollars more in Canada than the identical model in the U.S. A bottle of my favorite Australian wine costs $13.95 in Quebec; in the U.S., it’s $4.99. A book I’ve just ordered costs $49.50 on Amazon.ca.; on Amazon.com, it sells for $24.40. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price of gasoline in the country is $3.38 per gallon; of course, gasoline prices vary from region to region and time to time in Canada, as in the U.S. But in the province of British Columbia, prices recently spiked at $1.44 per litre for regular unleaded, the cheapest octane going, which factors out to approximately $6.48 per gallon. (It has since declined to $1.32 per litre, which works out to $5.94 per gallon.) Filling up at a PetroCan station in Quebec the other day, I paid the equivalent of $6.30 per gallon for regular unleaded; the super premium grade would have nudged the price toward the $7 per gallon range. I focus on these differentials since my current itineraries require me to do considerable driving. It is, apparently, unseemly to complain as the twin levy of national and provincial fuel tax is earmarked for various social projects, whatever these may be. But the result is that, compared to the average American, the average Canadian pays approximately twice as much driving to work for the socially conscious privilege of earning a lower salary.
Generally speaking, the cost of living in Canada is, according to available statistics, around 20 percent higher than in the U.S., while purchasing power is 22.25 percent lower; the variance is even more disadvantageous in the provinces of Ontario, where electricity costs have skyrocketed, and Quebec, where everything keeps going up and never ever comes down. This explains why huge numbers of my fellow citizens spend their Saturdays profiting from cross-border shopping in Plattsburg, NY. (Note: the official currency exchange rate, though volatile, is more or less at par.)
It is true that America may be the most litigious society in the world, but we are fast catching up -- I have personal experience in the matter with our libel-hunting Islamic organizations, where a notice of libel is a pretext for getting a critic of Islam to shut up. Lawfare, as it’s called, is the consummate form of duct tape. Where we exceed the U.S. regarding the climate of legal vendetta involves something called human rights commissions, which are essentially kangaroo courts whose mandate is to protect the nation from “hateful” speech. To this end, an offended plaintiff may lodge a complaint at no expense to himself, the defendant must pay legal fees and costs from his own resources (and such costs may run into the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars), evidence for the defense is usually regarded as inadmissible, witnesses for the defense are frowned upon, and the conviction rate hovers around 100 percent. Recent changes to the so-called Human Rights Act are modest and nationally selective, and the tribunals continue to slash and burn their way across the common culture.
Unfortunately, we have no real First Amendment in this country, a lamentable fact underscored by a February 27, 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada to the effect that truth is no defense in the context of a hateful utterance regarding a designated minority group or individual belonging to that group. One may despair at the composition and moral fibre of the American Supreme Court, but it is probably far worse in this country, which, as I have written before, “boasts a Supreme Court filled to the brim with superannuated, politically correct apparatchiks who have no compunction about legislating against both the theory and practice of free speech.” (I am waiting to be accused of ageism and perhaps defamation.)
In the academic domain, admittedly, there is not much to choose between the two countries -- the situation and the prognosis are equally cataclysmic, especially in the public schools and in the humanities and social science departments of our failing universities, which have become hotbeds of left/liberal political indoctrination. The degree of mind-blowing, complacent and snoutish stupidity is almost beyond description. I got out of the racket as soon as I could, though not soon enough, taking early retirement with a derisory pension rather than having to deal on a daily basis with the smug imbecility of our administrators, the politically correct Newspeak of my colleagues, and the mental vacancy of the majority of my students -- nice kids, many of them, but years behind traditional grade level, devoid of civic and historical knowledge, and absolutely clueless about the world they were graduating into. The website Last Resistance features a video in which presumably educated, college-age Obama voters at Ohio University are interviewed, revealing an extent of supercilious ignorance so vast one might measure infinity by it. The reader will understand why hanging around a plummeting institution was wreaking havoc on my blood pressure.
When it comes to healthcare, a major share of our taxes goes to support a single-payer medicare system, which entails waits of between eight months and a year-and-a-half for elective surgery, two to three months for more serious issues, and up to half a day sitting in the doctor’s clinic for a minor check-up. For faster and more effective treatment in urgent cases, one travels to the U.S. -- I have known people who, unwilling to tempt the grim reaper, flew to the Mayo Clinic or other American hospitals for state-of-the-art care -- or pays out of one’s own pocket to access the private clinics that are beginning to spring up, clandestinely and frequently against government opposition. In other words, one is trapped in a double dipping bind, often paying twice for medical attention, involuntarily through taxes and voluntarily for competent service. In Quebec, the government has slapped on an additional $200 health care “contribution.” As usual, the fatuous Michael Moore in his movie Sicko was dead wrong in pointing to the Canadian system as a lodestone, a disaster to be emulated. As Yahoo columnist Mark Whittington observes, “Moore's fulsome, almost worshipful praise of Canada's health care bureaucracy was too much even for the Canadian press, which savaged Moore and Sicko after the film was screened at the Toronto Film Festival.” No surprise here since the film, as Whittington comments, “is not overly burdened by the truth. The truth would only get in the way.”
There exists, no doubt, much that needs to be rectified in the American medical-cum-insurance system and the unfunded liability which is Medicare, but it is -- or was, prior to the obscenity called Obamacare -- far superior to anything we have in this country and certainly enormously preferable to the British National Health Service (NHS) with its astronomical casualty rate, aka Murder Incorporated. The scandal that has come to light at Stafford Hospital, in which 1200 people have died due to substandard care, is a representative instance of what can be expected from universal socialized medicine. As the Daily Mail reports, “Patients were left lying in their own excrement and so thirsty that they were reduced to drinking water from vases.” The government report issued by forensic attorney Robert Francis found that “box ticking bureaucrats prioritised targets over basic levels of care.” Many other “trusts” were found to have unusually high mortality rates. The numbers are mindboggling. The British healthcare debacle gives the impression that the UK need never engage in the euthanasia debate that is agitating many Western nations these days; the current system sees to its de facto implementation.
What is not taken into consideration is that these same “targets” that Francis deplores were set by higher-echelon authorities (most associated with the former Labor government), responsible for the chronic staff shortages, misplaced funding, multiple layers of ponderous and stifling bureaucracy, and lax supervision that bedevil British healthcare. As Melanie Phillips writes in the Daily Mail:
The shocking extent of the cruelty, neglect and sheer absence of humanity now on show in the health and social services surely tells us something else. The notion that state-run services are the only way to ensure compassion is totally wrong. Altruism is a moral concept -- and it is morality which has gone missing here.
Far from engendering altruism, the Welfare State has all but destroyed it.…The Welfare State -- and most particularly the NHS -- is seen as the ultimate example of compassion. In fact, it leaves patients and clients powerless, while protecting and even rewarding gross incompetence, and worse, by staff.
Canada has not yet plunged to that depth of ignominy, but one fears it is on the way. And liberal Americans with, until recently, arguably the best healthcare network in the world regardless of its inherent problems, want more of the same? Perhaps Obamacare will crumble under its own unsustainable weight and Americans will be spared the destruction of their relatively good fortune.
We also fall short of the U.S. insofar as we have no Second Amendment allowing us to protect ourselves against those who acquire firearms illegally. If ready to be used, a legal weapon is an antidote to an illegal weapon, so to speak, but our authorities have tried everything from draconian and ill-written gun registries to forced police entry to deprive people of their legitimate firearms. The law requires guns and ammunition to be stored in separate locked containers, making it nearly impossible to resist and deter sudden attacks or break-ins: a friend, licensed and trained, who owns several firearms, is reduced to the farcical expedient of keeping an air pistol by his bedside since he would not have time to lock and load in the event of a nocturnal break-in. And, to complicate matters further, anyone who attempts to defend himself is subject to arrest and prosecution.
The ordeal of Ian Thomson, an Ontario man who found himself fighting criminal charges for shooting over the heads of four masked men who were firebombing his house, is illustrative. Crown prosecutors pursued a case against Mr. Thomson for illegal storage and discharging of a firearm that lasted for more than two years, costing him $60,000 in legal fees, before he was acquitted. From their perspective, it would seem that a man sitting in a house set aflame by marauders should use the opportunity to toast marshmallows rather than take up arms to defend his life and property. Other such events have occurred -- for example, Toronto grocer David Chen arrested and charged for assault and forcible confinement when apprehending a serial thief -- giving the impression that we live in a land of legal raptors and a cretinous gendarmerie. As Sun News columnist Lorne Gunter remarks, “The professionals in the criminal justice system don’t like competition from regular folks. They see citizens who defend themselves as greater threats to public safety than the criminals themselves.” In this respect, Canadians have far less liberty than Americans, despite the current effort by American progressivists at gun confiscation.
It is only fair to say that there are several areas in which life in Canada excels life in America. For one thing, Canada enjoys a cleaner political culture than its neighbor to the south; elections are not so easily stolen here (not even in Quebec, though Quebec comes close to the American model), dead people tend not to vote, multiple voting in different electoral districts is generally monitored, and we do not have a corrupt and racially motivated attorney general who opposes voter ID. For another, there is on the whole less racial, social and internecine violence. True, we have a Muslim problem that perhaps rivals that in the U.S., and a restive and often seditious aboriginal community, many of whose members take the law into their own hands, with the aid of police and government complicity and the lenient, pro-aboriginal sentencing guidelines in our Criminal Code. But there is comparatively little in the way of standard racial discord. We have no Al Sharptons, Louis Farrakhans or Jesse Jacksons, few roving gangs of thugs-of-color, and no one playing the knockout game or setting whites on fire. But this may be due to the demographic accident of a small population spread thinly across an enormous land mass. Where population is densely concentrated and is also home to a rootless substratum, as in the city of Toronto, the social fabric tends to fray demonstrably. And, as mentioned above, we have a systemic “First Nations” dilemma, which is ongoing and probably unresolvable.
Nonetheless, with respect to the incidence of episodic violence across the length and breadth of the country, Canada is in a more favorable position than the U.S., benefiting from a less problematic racial history and a northern geography that insulates it from mounting waves of illegal immigration. There was, it is true, a human smuggling problem some years back with an influx of Chinese “boat people” seeking refugee status, but that has tapered off after firm government action -- though it must be said our immigration procedures often border on the ludicrous, such as, for example, moving to award citizenship to a Pakistani Muslim on the basis of his mental illness. What an unemployable, economically dependent, illiterate and schizophrenic Muslim from a backward theocratic country has to offer Canada remains an insoluble mystery.
In any case, a chaster political culture and a comparative modicum of racial tensions are, of course, significant differences that augur better for Canada than for the U.S., but America trumps Canada in almost every other regard. Why, then, should the president, the Democratic Party, the left/liberal constituency and millions of utterly foolish voters want to fundamentally transform their country into something that resembles the Great White North or the collapsing economic and multicultural hovels that were once the European nations? What sort of death wish are they in the grip of? What America needed to deal with domestically was minority racism, the epidemic of single-parent families, runaway entitlement spending and illegal immigration, arduous but feasible propositions when approached with enlightened and determined statecraft, patience and strength of will. But to transform the country into a caricature of its former self beggars belief.
When America becomes Canada, with stratospheric taxation rates for the middle class, a dysfunctional medicare system serving a parasitical bureaucracy, misguided gun control benefiting criminals at the expense of a vulnerable citizenry, banshee prosecutors living off the flesh of the innocent, limited civil rights, a suborned police force (see Gary McHale’s just published blockbuster, Victory in the No-Go Zone,* for a bituminous indictment of two-tier policing and an account of how to disarm it), diminished purchasing power, a punitive cost of living index, human rights tribunals bankrupting people for giving offense, and a Supreme Court that legislates against free expression, it will have succumbed to the soft totalitarianism afflicting the Western world. As for America’s current racial problems, these will undoubtedly worsen rather than improve as the economy and social structure weaken. And there won’t be many of us left to say I toldja so.
* McHale’s book, published by Freedom Press Canada and edited by frequent PJM contributor Janice Fiamengo, is one of those rare volumes that can actually make a positive difference, not only in Canada, but in any democratic country bedeviled by politically correct government oversight, venal law officials and a compromised and decadent police force. It is a book by an ordinary citizen written for ordinary citizens everywhere who have been deprived of their constitutional rights.
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